New Buildings Institute welcomed Smita Gupta as its new Director for Building Innovation in early February. We asked Smita five questions about her experiences over two decades in the energy and buildings industries. Here’s what she shared.
A: NBI is a very well-respected organization in the industry and has become a trusted and independent resource for driving change in the built environment towards decarbonization. It’s really the thought leadership, the vision and mission related to transforming the built environment towards a carbon-free future that drew me to NBI. But more importantly, the people who work here, who I find share both knowledge and passion for the work they do. From foundational technology research to pushing the envelope with the Getting to Zero initiative, backed with the policy and codes work. In my role as Director for the Building Innovation program area, I get to focus on and help drive some very key initiatives at the heart of building decarbonization. Key to that are the Advanced Water Heating Initiative (for hot water heat pumps) and GridOptimal for grid interactive buildings. It’s an honor to be a part of this team.
Q: Why is getting to zero important for the industry?
A: Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is key to the climate challenge of our times. The building sector accounts for nearly 40% of GHG emissions, so the importance of “getting to zero” in the built environment is really quite straight forward. Zero net energy, building electrification and decarbonization are all strategies towards this path to zero carbon. And we need to be thinking about strategies not just for new construction, but existing buildings, which make up the vast majority of the building stock.
It’s really the thought leadership, the vision and mission related to transforming the built environment towards a carbon-free future that drew me to NBI. But more importantly, the people who work here, who I find share both knowledge and passion for the work they do.
Q: Could you provide some background on your professional experience and the challenges and/or successes that motivate you in this work?
A: I have been in the building energy industry for almost 25 years now. Right from my undergraduate education in architecture I was drawn to the energy aspect of the built environment, starting with bioclimatic architecture which focuses on the passive design. From there, I have grown to gain valuable experience in building science and technology, including a deep dive into the computation end with related software design. I have enjoyed traversing the breadth from design and simulation, technology research, policy, codes and programs, to the grid connectivity challenges, and the evolving landscape with distributed resources including battery storage and EV charging.
I was very fortunate to work at the California Energy Commission with inspiring figures like Commissioner Art Rosenfeld, who catalyzed the industry in its trajectory towards lower energy use. I was both a witness and active participant in the impact of powerful policy, which included working in the Title 24 Building Standards office. I worked on the California Solar Initiative policy and programs during the decade which saw the exponential growth of rooftop solar in CA. I participated in and played a seminal role in the design of the new construction solar incentive program NSHP (New Solar Homes Partnership) with performance-based PV incentives, also managed the CSI RD&D program that sought to enable the grid integration, and market facilitation of distributed solar.
As a consultant, I worked with state agencies and utilities and led several strategic and action plan efforts around zero net energy, technology research and grid integration of DER. I also worked as as a product manager for the DER controls platform and AMI data analytics at Itron, which has given me knowledge and appreciation for the technology stack involved in the advanced meter network, communications and controls of behind the meter devices. This evolving energy landscape around the built environment and the interaction with the grid and distributed energy resources is very motivating for me, in that it poses both challenges and opportunities.
Controlling and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is key to the climate challenge of our times. The building sector accounts for nearly 40% of GHG emissions, so the importance of “getting to zero” in the built environment is really quite straight forward.
Q: What do you think is next for the built environment and the buildings industry?
A: Flexible Load Management, both by active controls and by passive measures towards decarbonization is the next big thing in my view. This is an important component that goes hand-in-hand with electrification of all end uses and distributed renewable generation towards total decarbonization of the built sector and the grid. The bi-directional flow of energy on the electric grid with rooftop solar and other distributed generation has been a gamechanger that has enabled this transition to a transactive energy future. And now with the introduction of energy storage and electric vehicle charging to the end use equation of buildings, the industry is faced with new challenges and also opportunities to more effectively shape the energy profile. The orchestration of behind the meter load (on the customer side of the meter) with using or deferring the use of energy can go a long way towards decarbonization. It involves drawing from the grid when it’s the cleanest or with renewable energy generation and storing for use when the generation may not be the cleanest. The key though is in doing this without trading off comfort and convenience for the occupants.
Q: What is giving you hope right now?
A: There are several things that are giving me hope for the future. The advancements in technology for both clean generation and consumption, the recognition and priority on decarbonization of energy use in all sectors, but most importantly, the young generation today of teenagers like my kids and others who think like Greta Thunberg. Motivations for decarbonization are not just a matter of climate change, but a basic health and safety issue for our planet and our people, and it also make economic sense. For example, coal power plants are shutting down for economic reasons and the clean energy industry is spurring job growth. So, I am feeling hopeful that we will move towards decarbonization and a healthy planet.
by Stacey Hobart, Communications Director